Three Jars of Kimchi

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

This almost took me a week to finish. It was almost too personal to me, to the point where I couldn’t tell which parts were fiction and which were not anymore. This story remains very close to my heart as I wished it would raise awareness for the complicated relationships between abusive parents and their children.

The kitchen almost buzzed with tension as sisters Sadie and Shawn seated themselves across the dining table where their mother was stacking kimchi on top of each other. Sadie tried shooting frantic glances at her sister, but Shawn paid her no attention, her eyes fixed on the plate.

Their mother closed the lid over the rest of the kimchi. Clack. The sound rang across the room. As she sat down, Sadie squirmed in her seat, and Sadie took a sharp breath, both of them bracing themselves for what was about to come.

“I did this just yesterday,” she said, beaming at her kids, who did not return her smile. “It’s more than usual, obviously because it’s Sadie’s big day tomorrow.” Sadie averted her gaze. “Right, Sadie? How does it feel to finally become an elite?”

Sadie fought to fill in the silence that soon followed. “I’ve actually been thinking about it, and…”

“And?”

The smile disappeared from her mother’s face as Sadie continued. “Since last year, I haven’t really been feeling it. About gymnastics, you know. I train for so many hours just for one goal, and… and I just don’t know if I want that anymore. I know I’m letting you down and all, but…”

“Stop talking.”

Her mother dropped her chopsticks, which clanged loudly against the glass surface. Sadie closed her mouth. Shawn looked up from her bowl of rice.

“How dare you?”

The first words out of their mother’s mouth were a scream, reduced to almost a whisper. “I gave up so much for you, ever since your dad —“ She hesitated, then swatted at the air like she would at a mosquito. Both sisters flinched. “If you’re willing to act like this, then you deserve what’s going to happen to you. Your albums — Busted, were they?” Sadie looked down at her single slice of kimchi. “I bought each and every one of them. I give you what you want. I feed you. I pay for your education. But now you have the nerve to sit here and tell me that you’re not going to do one thing for me? I’m going to break your albums with a fucking hammer if you don’t go back to gymnastics.”

“But that’s not fair,” Sadie blurted out.

“Well, it’s not my fault you decided to be a lazy bitch.”

“That’s enough.”

Shawn rose from the table. Sadie looked at her, then hesitantly copied her sister. With Shawn in the lead, the sisters pushed past their mother while she stood still, her back to them, arms crossed and a smirk on her face as if to say, Neither of you is going to win this fight.

Shawn slammed the door in her face.

“What are we going to do now?” Sadie said, panic evident in her voice.

“We’re going to leave this sorry excuse of a house.”

Now? But what is she going to do to us?”

”I’m not going to let anything happen to you. We’re going to crash at a friend’s place. I know someone who could help us. Maya, a few stops away from here. Do you know her?”

Sadie shook her head.

“She’ll take us in. She knows what our mom is like.”

For the next several minutes, the two packed their bags in silence.

“You don’t think she’s waiting outside the door?” Sadie said after a while.

Shawn shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t think I give much of a fuck.”

But she opened the door anyway, and checking that their mother wasn’t there, she gestured at Sadie. While Shawn slung her backpack over her shoulder, Sadie looked around for the last time. Then they sneaked out to the front door. Shawn stopped to listen. The house was silent, more than it should have been. As soon as she opened the door, it beeped away to an automated tune. The sisters let it continue as they ran down the stairs.

Neither of them said a word to each other as they left the apartment building and walked down the street. The red and grey bricks glowed under the orange light. A dog barked in the distance, and was soon joined by another. Sadie looked up. There wasn’t much to see. The buildings towered over each other, effectively blocking the night sky. They were the exact same height and width, all of them, twelve floors and seven windows apart. Sadie lost count of them after passing a dozen or so. A light turned off on the fifth floor across the street. Sleeping With the Light On mindlessly played in her head, over and over again.

She stopped in her tracks. Sleeping With the Light On was the eighth track on Busted. And that exact album happened to be on top of the CD player in the corner of her room.

Shawn was still walking, now way ahead. Sadie ran to catch up with her.

“My album. I forgot my album.”

Shawn sighed. “Which one?”

Busted. It came out last year.”

“You know what will happen if you go back.”

“I’ll… fight my way out,” Sadie said.

“Like that’s going to happen. You know she’s like a fucking gorilla.”

“I’ll be quick.”

Shawn narrowed her eyes. “Seriously? We’re runaways, and that’s what’s on your mind right now?”

Sadie ignored her, running back the way she came. She counted properly this time. Her apartment building was the fifteenth. She frantically pressed each number of the password and yanked the door open.

She could hear loud music coming from her mother’s room. She sighed in relief. She tiptoed across the house nevertheless, opening her door ever so slightly so as to not catch attention.

There it was. She snatched it and stuffed it inside her bag with immense effort. She struggled with the zipper for a bit, then managed to get it all the way across. Her stomach hurt. She was hungry. Maybe she could get a Mars bar or two from the kitchen. She made a detour back to the refrigerator. Her hands ran over a photo of her family, taken over a year ago. A complete family that included the man that had it all. May 3rd, 2002. Back when she loved gymnastics. Back when things were too positive. It was the kind of dream that you wake up from and immediately regret doing so.

She opened both doors. On the bottom lay a single Mars bar. On top of it sat three jars of kimchi. Sadie remembered her mother smiling today, boasting about how much kimchi she made for her. For Sadie. She rarely smiled these days. Maybe she should’ve smiled back. Just for the sake of it. Just to pretend that everything was just like it was before. Back then, Sadie couldn’t wait for dinner, because the kimchi was that good. Now, the kimchi was the only thing preventing her and Shawn from leaving the dining table each time.

Sadie hated her mother. She was afraid of her. So she couldn’t understand why she was reaching for the kimchi and taking one jar, then two, then three. She just needed them. All three of them. She could not, and would not leave a single one behind. A handful of Kleenex would have been useful as she wiped the tears that streamed down her face with her sleeve.

The jars were too big to fit inside her bag. She hugged them close to her chest and walked back to the front door, the jars threatening to slip off once or twice. Then she heard footsteps behind her. She turned around. The jars swayed in her hands.

It was her mother. But then who else could it have been? She cracked a smile, and Sadie managed to smile back this time. Then her mother started to laugh, the kind of laughter that was not normal, the kind that you would only hear from someone drunk. She just didn’t stop laughing, and Sadie started to feel scared — not only of but for her mother, and she pushed the door open and ran outside as fast as she could.

She didn’t stop.

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The Red Candy

Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash

“Where’s my chocolate?” asked an impatient Alex, tugging at her mother’s sleeve. 

“What chocolate?” 

“The one you bought me yesterday.” 

“I threw it away.” 

“What do you mean you threw it away? There was one left inside,” Alex said. 

“The trash is already outside. The garbage collector will be here any minute.” 

“I hate you!” Alex screamed, her short arms uselessly flailing at her mother like a feather would at a tree. She stomped away from her and pushed the front door with an incredible force one would not expect from a ten-year-old.

Sandra sighed. She teared her eyes off her daughter and continued to beat the single egg that was alone in her fridge this morning. The yolk spattered off the bowl and landed on the pile of letters to her right. Every two days or so, that pile welcomed yet another letter. Today was that day.

Maybe you deserved to get divorced.

Who divorced who, Eric?

You should burn in hell.

Yeah, right. It was almost comical. Sandra didn’t remember her ex-husband being such a jerk. It wasn’t like she cared, though. The luxury of being able to not give a shit was exactly why she went through her divorce. As long as he stayed away from her and Alex, she was fine.

She stopped reading the letters after a week. But she collected them, anyway. 

She looked up at the small, textured window on the front door, not that she could see through it. Was Alex was still looking for her chocolate? 

Not really. She used to, but then she heard the rumbling of a huge truck approaching. It must be the garbage collector that her mother told her about. She ran to the side of the house and peeked ever so slightly from behind. She didn’t like strangers. Her mother taught her not to like strangers. 

The garbage collector had a uniform on, neon yellow — or green, if you may — with a silver stripe in the middle. It hurt Alex’s eyes. It wasn’t the thing bothering her the most, though. The woman was not acting like your typical garbage collector. Instead of heading straight towards the garbage where Alex was near, she cautiously stepped towards the mailbox, keeping her eyes on the house as if someone was about to step outside any minute. She took out the envelope that was inside, reached inside her pocket, and replaced the letter with an identical one. Alex’s mouth opened. The woman finally walked back towards the garbage, which is when Alex ran to the back of the house and waited for five minutes or so until she was sure the woman was gone. 

Freya took one last glance towards the house. She was sure that Sandra was there, but she also knew that she wouldn’t give a damn about an ordinary garbage collector. If there was one good thing that came out of Freya’s career, it was meeting Sandra. Not personally, nor directly. When she laid eyes on Sandra, she became all she cared about. She always lingered in front of the house, hoping that she would run into Sandra, hoping that she would say a single thank you. But she never did, Freya was just a garbage collector, so this was the most she could do. Fake letters until you make it. 

The woman was indeed out of sight when Alex returned. She eagerly opened the letter. The first few paragraphs were nothing but hasty scribbles of random mean words that Alex could not figure out. She skimmed through the exhaustingly long and aggressive letter until she reached the last paragraph.

It’s been a while since I sent you a letter and honestly, I don’t care if you break down after reading this because you deserve it, Sandy. You took my money and job away from me, and because that wasn’t enough, my daughter too. Forgot she was also mine, didn’t you? I hope you don’t feel safe for long, because I’m going to take her from you. I am.

Eric

Alex wasn’t really sure what he — or the woman impersonating him — was talking about, but if she knew one thing, it was the word daughter and the fact that she was the one the letter mentioned. She stood there on the front lawn, letter in one hand, deep in thought as her chocolate continued on its journey to disposal, long forgotten by its owner. 

Maybe she should tell her mother about the woman. Maybe she could help figure the whole thing out. Or maybe she didn’t want that. Her mother often cried out of nowhere, not just silent crying, but hysterical sobbing. She didn’t like seeing her mother like that. It made Alex sad, too. 

So she put the letter back inside and walked back home with hands in her pockets like nothing was out of the ordinary. 

Between school and more bars of chocolate, the woman was not the most interesting nor important topic Alex’s mind dwelled on, until exactly a week later on a sunny Tuesday, she observed a letter sticking out of the mailbox on her way to school. She knew it wasn’t from the garbage collector, because that woman wouldn’t be here until at least ten minutes later. 

To say the least, the letter was not what Alex had been expecting. 

Sandy, why haven’t you been returning my letters? I told you, I’m sorry that you felt I wasn’t the man for you but I’m ready — I’m a different person than I used to be. Please give me a second chance. Please tell me that I deserve you. I don’t know how many times I have to say this.

Alex shoved the letter back into its envelope. Her head was spinning. She had read enough to know that the woman was deliberately replacing these letters with angry ones because she cared about Alex’s parents’ relationship. But why? She was too young to understand. Just adult things. 

This time, she was ready for the garbage collector. She hid behind the bags of garbage and waited until the weekly truck made its way down the street. She watched without a sound as the woman walked towards the mailbox again, as leisurely as if to tell the world that it was perfectly normal behavior. 

Alex emerged. She waved the letter in front of the woman’s face. “I know what you’re doing.” 

The woman yelped, but quickly regained her posture. She smiled, but even Alex could tell that she was nervous. “What do you mean, sweetie?” 

“You have a letter in your pocket,” Alex recited. “You’re going to put it in the mailbox. My mom cries every time she reads your letters.” 

The woman’s face turned red. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

“I’m going to tell her, then.” Alex swiftly walked towards the front door. 

“No, wait, wait!“ the woman whispered, grabbing Alex’s shoulder. She turned around. The woman knelt, looking Alex directly in the eye. “I know that you’re a good girl.” She fished something out of her pocket. A candy, bright red. Alex’s eyes widened. 

“Promise me not to tell your mom, and I’ll give you this.” 

Alex squirmed. “But she —“

“Shh. She never has to know.” 

After a tense second or two, Alex finally nodded. The woman handed her the candy. Alex happily started to remove the wrapper. 

It was a mistake for the child, but an intended one for Freya. She watched, making sure that the child was out of view from the house. She swallowed the candy in whole. It didn’t take her long until she started to choke. Good. Her legs shuddered, then she fell to the ground. White foam formed around her mouth. Her eyes dimmed. 

Freya knew this was her only chance. 

“Somebody help!” she screamed. She rummaged through her pockets and fished out an old eye drop. There. Now she was crying. There was a series of hurried footsteps as Sandra rushed out of the door, stopping in her tracks when she saw her daughter’s head in Freya’s hands. 

“Alex. Alex!

Freya deliberately met the grieving mother’s eyes to display the fake tears flowing down her cheek. Her heart took up its pace when Sandra looked back. Face to face. She never would have thought. A minute spent with her. Maybe she didn’t deserve it. But she had it right now, and that was what mattered. 

She shook her head. She had to keep acting. She couldn’t forget that. 

“I saw a man give her a candy, but I didn’t know — I wouldn’t have known —“

“What man?” Sandra asked, her voice barely a whisper. It was like she already knew the answer. 

Freya sniffed dramatically. She recalled a photo of Eric and Sandra together. “Tall… he had thick glasses… I think he also had some sort of a beard —“

“Eric,” Sandra said. 

“Sorry?”

“It’s nothing,” Sandra muttered under her breath. 

She cradled Alex for the last time and rose to her feet. “Please…” her voice broke. “Call the ambulance for me, if you won’t mind, I won’t be long. Please take care of her.” 

“Sure.” I’ll do anything for you.

Sandra ran to her Prius, started the engine, and drove onto the road to hunt down an innocent man. Freya watched as she disappeared behind a building. She sighed. Then she turned her attention back to the girl, who, by then, had stopped making gurgling noises. The candy was effective as hell. 

Freya smiled. “You look just like your mother, Alex.” 

For the Greater Good

Photo by Fredrik Öhlander on Unsplash

Trinity grabbed the white box. She felt the dog slide to the side. 

“Thank you.” She managed a huge smile. She held the box closer to her chest, but the dog’s whining only got louder as she reached her car. Only when Trinity placed the box on the seat next to her and opened it did he close his mouth and look up at her with irresistible eyes. The woman at the shelter said she found him wandering on the streets alone, perfectly groomed except for a bald spot on the back. The shelter determined it was no disease. It was weird, the woman had said, but she had seen worse cases. Trinity assumed he had been abused and abandoned very recently. Why would anyone raise a dog for over a decade and decide to stop, she did not know. 

By the time she was home, unloading the box, she had come up with a name for the chihuahua: Soba, Japanese for buckwheat, for no particular reason other than it was the most unique one she could find on the Internet’s endless list of male dog names. 

She carefully picked up the box and carried it to her living room. As soon as it was open, Soba darted out and ran in circles until he suddenly plopped down and started staring at Trinity again. He really liked to stare. 

He was still staring at her when she poured his food onto his new bowl. She tentatively pushed it towards him, not really knowing how he would react, as she had never adopted a dog before. Soba sniffed the bowl once, then plunged his nose into the food. Trinity sighed in relief. 

She stared at the blank screen of her wall-mounted TV as Soba noisily dug through his food. It took her quite a while before she realized that she could no longer hear anything. It was silent, too much so. She spun around. The bowl was half-empty, and Soba was nowhere to be seen. 

She checked every corner of the house once, then twice. No Soba. 

She thought this only happened in movies. Tears filled her eyes as she mechanically printed out dozens of lost dog posters, a huge photo of Soba at the shelter plastered across the white sheets of paper. She headed outside. For the next few hours, she walked from tree to tree and taped the posters onto every single one she could see. Obnoxious, yes. But if anything happened to Soba, it would be her fault, and hers only. 

The sun rose higher, and Trinity regretted having left the house in long sleeves. Drenched in sweat, she collapsed to the ground, crumpled up the last few posters in her hands and sat down on the bare pavement, her head in her hands. 

Something nudged her feet. 

She sniffed, then looked up. It was a dog. A white, long-haired chihuahua, just like Soba, except this one was a baby, no more than five months old, and it was missing an eye. It was far too grotesque to have resulted from surgery — the amount of blood around its hollow socket was enough as proof. She covered her mouth with her hands. She didn’t want to throw up, not in front of the baby.  

She cautiously petted the dog with her left hand. It did not bark once. Instead, its tail wagged furiously, a response unexpected from such a skittish dog. She looked closer. To her shock, he had exactly four light-brown spots on his left side, and one on his right. Just like Soba.

So this was Soba. It had to be. Except somehow, he was a decade younger. 

Either this was a nightmare, or he had traveled through time and hurt himself in the process. Does time travel do that? she wondered. Was it even real? 

Before Trinity could investigate further, Soba turned around and started running across the street. She tried to stop him, but he was too fast. He was running away again — or as she realized, leading her towards somewhere. After a while, he slowed down a bit to let her catch up with him. 

It was like running a marathon. They passed dozens of blocks. Trinity felt like dying, and Soba wasn’t even fazed.  

They came to a stop in front of a glass building. Ominous, tall, and blue, yet so lifeless. But it wasn’t just because there were less people than there should be. It was something else, something that she couldn’t place a finger on. 

Soba whined. He refused to go in any further. 

“You want me to go inside?” 

He simply stared at her with his one good eye. 

Trinity stepped inside — no one was at the front desk. No stairs either, as far as she could see, but there was a set of elevators, as clean and spotless as if they had been built yesterday. They probably were. 

One of the elevators arrived with a ding. She stepped inside. Sleek metal, ordinary buttons, a mirror. Nothing too fancy — where to go, though? She randomly pressed 3, to which there was no response. She repeated the same for 1 and 2… the only working button, as she figured out, was 5. 

The elevator shot up. 

The doors opened. 

Trinity squinted — blinding lights greeted her along with rows and rows of cages. Cages of dogs inside. She had never seen a room this big. It seemed as if it was the only thing occupying the fifth floor — her hands gingerly slipped past a cage, then two… these dogs were not healthy. A tear ran down her cheek as a beagle cowered away from her as far as it could inside the impossibly small space, howling in pain. I’m sorry. Her hands reached another. A Rottweiler. Its front leg was missing, almost as if it was cut clean by a butcher’s knife. I will get you out of here. They were test subjects, and Soba was one of them. Because a group of scientists were too scared to travel through time themselves, they put these dogs through it, with severe consequences to follow. They were probably to be discarded after an experiment or two. Soba was lucky to only have had his fur missing the first time. He wasn’t so lucky the next. 

Her legs trembled. She closed her eyes shut. She had to do something. For Soba. For every single life about to be wasted. A glass of jar dropped to the floor somewhere in the room, breaking into pieces. She forced her eyes back open. She tiptoed across the passage made by the cages, turning right, then left, towards the source of the sound. Soon she reached an open area. A table stood in the middle, and a poodle lay on it. 

She was not alone. 

A man with shortly trimmed hair dyed orange and a lab coat on stood with his back turned to her as he filled a syringe with a substance she just knew was illegal. He raised his hand, about to inject the dog, but Trinity was faster — her hands reached into the Swiss army knife in her pocket and stabbed the man’s hand as hard as she could. 

The man screamed and dropped the syringe. The poodle yelped, jumping off the table. As he fell to the ground, Trinity scrambled towards the syringe and grabbed it — what would she do, what would I do, she thought in panic, but the man was already on his feet, his hands reaching for Trinity. She looked once at the syringe and instinctively stabbed herself with it. 

Her feet left the ground and she was pulled out of gravity, into black nothingness, a white spot in the middle growing bigger and bigger until she found herself yanked back into reality. Into the future. 

She felt a hand on her shoulder. 

“Ms. Hansen!”

Trinity pulled herself up. 

“I’m fine…” she mumbled. Her voice sounded much deeper. More mature. Her eyes opened. It was the same white table, surrounded by the same cages, but this time there were five or six people around it with the same lab coats the man with the syringe had on. A dead bulldog with an ear missing lay on the table. Everyone ignored it, but expectantly looked at Trinity instead. She simply gave them a blank stare back. 

She was older. The older version of Trinity Hansen knew these people, knew this experiment, led this experiment, by the looks of it. No. No. She took a step back. 

“I —“ 

“Ms. Hansen,” an eager young voice said. Trinity looked up. “Like I asked before, how were you able to capture so many dogs this season?”

In Search of Hair

Photo by Tore F on Unsplash

I was tired of dropping bodies in my stories, so this was the result.

Asher shook the purple wig in the young employee’s face. “Is this the cheapest one you’ve got?”

The employee bit his lips. “You’ve been told before. You’ve been here for three hours. You’re disturbing the other customers.” 

Asher looked around the empty store. “What customers?”

His face turned red. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave, ma’am.” 

“Fine.” Asher threw the wig onto the floor. The employee made a little gasp. It flopped wistfully before settling down. She marched down the aisles and out of the store, frantically adjusting her even cheaper, obviously fake plastic wig as it threatened to slip off her head. 

She didn’t stop walking until she reached the door to her apartment. After wrestling with the keyhole for a while, the door opened with a disturbing creak. Clothes were littered all over the floor, giving off a strong odor. She carefully stepped over them and headed to the bathroom, which wasn’t any cleaner. The sink lost its original color long ago. She walked towards it, keeping her eyes on the floor. She took a deep sigh, then looked up in the mirror.  

She hated her wig. Hated it. What else could she afford though, when she could barely cover the cost of food and rent? She got it two years ago at a secondhand store, just when she started balding. She was pretty sure there were better wigs out there that were expensive and already bought by everyone else. She looked so pathetic. She ripped the wig off her head, then immediately regretted it. She looked even worse. She placed her hands on the dirty sink and silently wept. She repeated this process so many times that she didn’t have tears to spill anymore.  

Baldness was a curse for then twenty-year-old Asher, who was mentally stable and lived a much better life. She had a dream of becoming a model. Then when she started to lose her hair, all hell broke loose. She was diagnosed with alopecia areata. As soon as she heard there was no cure, she ran away from her mother, got a job somehow, then two, then three… she couldn’t count them. She shrugged, and her reflection copied her. It didn’t really matter when she had been jobless for a month now, having been kicked out of her last workplace for being “unstable” and “unreliable.” I can redeem myself, Asher remembered begging, crying all over her boss. He just walked out of the room. 

She picked up her wig from the floor. It was wet and covered with unidentifiable matter. Gross. She dropped it. 

Crouching low so she wouldn’t see herself in the mirror, she backed out of the bathroom, leaped over some more clothes and walked through the open bedroom door. It was already dark outside. She looked out the window. The city was just as loud as it was during the day, which wasn’t surprising. Stores were just starting to close one by one, the bookstore around the corner, the butcher shop in front, the… 

The hair salon. What did a hair salon have? Hair. Hair that Asher did not have. She had an idea: a terrible one, but brilliant for sure.  

She picked up the darkest clothes she could find around her and put them on. They didn’t smell too bad. She pulled out her drawer, found the revolver, and put it in her pocket. She didn’t even know how to use it. Just in case, though. 

Only when she got off the elevator and headed towards the crosswalk did she unconsciously touch her head to realize she didn’t have her wig on. Whatever.

Asher walked over to the hair salon. Everything was dark inside. That was a good sign. She hesitated, glancing at the door and back at the window. Shoot the handle with her pistol? Dumb idea. Everyone in the city would be coming for her. Open the window? She could try. She struggled a few times, and was about to give up when it gave way with a pop.

The window was big enough so that she could step inside. She stood in the darkness for a while, giddy at her own success and genius. The owner probably never thought anyone would rob his store. I mean, why would anyone? The owner probably wasn’t even here right —

The door in front burst open, and light flooded into the salon. The owner was here, after all. And she was a woman. 

Speaking of the woman, she had the longest hair Asher had ever seen. A Rapunzel with black hair, basically. She was in the most casual grey shirt and sweatpants anyone could manage. 

“Why are you here? I mean, you’re…” she pointed at Asher’s hair, or the lack of it. 

“Bald?” Asher hadn’t prepared for this scenario. She whipped her gun out, trying her best to look like a proper criminal. The woman took a step back. The revolver wasn’t even loaded, but of course the woman didn’t know that. With steady hands, Asher held it in front of her. 

“Hair. I need hair.” 

“Okay.” The woman slowly raised her arms above her head. 

“Now!” It was not a scream but rather a gurgling cry of desperation. Asher needed it to happen. She needed real hair, hair that she would never be able to buy on her own. Her revolver shook in her hand. 

The woman’s eyes shifted towards the gun. 

“Look, I understand how you feel.” She took a step towards Asher. Asher flashed a warning glare at her. “I get that you’re in a lot of —“

“I didn’t come here for your lectures. I came here for hair. I know you have them somewhere. Dig them out of the trash. Whatever.”

“I —“ 

“Your sympathies mean nothing! Nothing! Look at you with your pretty face and long hair, look at you with a stable job, money, family —“ she said, pointing at a picture on the wall, presumably of the woman’s family. Maybe not. She didn’t care anymore. 

She dropped to her knees. Her voice broke. “I — I just need hair.” 

Her revolver dropped to the ground, and she started sobbing uncontrollably, so loudly that it echoed all around the salon. She couldn’t stop crying. Her tears were burning hot. After a while, her tears took over her vision and it was all blurry, and before she knew it, she felt a hand on her shoulder. 

Asher looked up, mascara running down her face. The woman was holding a razor in her hand. Asher’s mouth opened. 

Without another word, the woman sat down in a chair, put the razor to her healthy and impossibly straight hair, and started to shave. She obviously had experience. Clumps of hair fell into a box, and by the time Asher was wiping her mascara off her face, her mouth still hanging open, searching for words to say, the hair was threatening to overflow. She never saw a woman bald before, other than herself. But here the woman was, voluntarily shaving her own hair. Becoming bald. Becoming like her. One snip at a time.

When the woman was done, Asher managed to find something to say. 

“Why are you doing this?” 

Shh,“ the woman simply said. 

So Asher sat down on the floor like a baby watching her mother as the woman wove the hair together. None of them said a word. When the sun rose, five or six hours later, the woman was still going. Asher did not take her eyes off the woman, not once.

The woman rose from her chair. She turned towards Asher with a huge grin on her face. 

“Is this enough for you?” 

Asher stared at the wig for a second and snatched it out of the woman’s hands. She put it on her head and stared in the mirror to make sure she wasn’t making this up in her head. She looked like a real person again. Her face scrunched up. She started crying. Again. The next thing she knew, she was in the woman’s arms. They stood like that for an uncomfortable amount of time, one bald and the other with hair, just like before, but not quite. 

Asher had an idea. She pulled herself out of the woman’s arms. The woman stood flabbergasted as Asher reached for a random scissor, pulled off her wig, and started snipping through the hair. 

She handed the hair to the woman. 

“No one is bald anymore.” 

She put her shortened wig back on. She looked in the mirror one last time. There. She looked more like herself. Without turning back, she pushed the front door open. 

It was cold. The wind no longer touched her scalp. 

Maybe she could go to an audition today. 

The Ghost Town Robbery

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

I want to make it clear that this story mentions suicide.

Eight days. 

That’s how long it took for Farzana to reach this town. She came to the right place. Remote, but not in the middle of nowhere. She could blend in if she ever would need to. A town everyone left during the day to go to work. 

She parked her car at the very end of the street. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t hers, it was her foster parents’. Her seventh. The ones that she ran away from eight days ago. The ones that probably worried more about their car’s whereabouts than their foster daughter’s safety. Fuck that. 

She opened the glove compartment and took out her five-dollar ski mask, the most she could afford. She didn’t mind. After this, she would have more than she needed. She pulled on the mask and turned the mirror towards her. She snickered. She looked hideous. She looked even less like a professional robber and more like a lost twelve-year-old. Then she reached the back seat of her car and dragged out her ragged skateboard. It took a bit of effort. At least I’ll look like a cool twelve-year-old. It had a cartoonish cat drawn on it and a middle finger painted above. She didn’t even remember how she got it, or when. 

She took a deep breath and stepped out of the car. The empty street made the houses look like a collective ghost town. She walked across the street in broad daylight. Running was a bad idea. She slipped behind the first house she laid eyes on. 

She peered inside. The lights weren’t on. But she had to make sure. For another thirty seconds, she carefully listened to any signs of people inside, but heard none. This is it. She lifted her skateboard above her head and thrusted it towards the window. The skateboard simply bounced back. She quickly looked around. Still no one. She leaned the skateboard backwards as much as she could and tried again. 

The window shattered dramatically, some of the pieces landing on Farzana’s hands and feet. 

“Fuck!” she whispered. 

At least it was enough for her to open the window by reaching inside. Abandoning her skateboard outside the house, which she didn’t care about anyway, she climbed inside. She hadn’t used it how it was supposed to, not since graduating from middle school. 

The house was eerily dark, suffering from a severe lack of windows. Too organized, too. Farzana wrinkled her nose in disgust. It reminded her of the house of her fifth foster parents. They were freaks. She would never let her own house be this clean, if she would ever live in one.

She sneaked towards the kitchen counter to her right. Marble. Ugh. There was barely anything on the surface. Do these people even cook? She crouched lower to touch the handle of a drawer. Maybe she would find priceless dishes inside that she knew people never use. She hesitated. Her hand pulled the drawer open. 

Hunter woke to the sound of breaking glass. The first thing he did when he stood up was to rummage through the boxes in his closet. Then he found it. A Glock 41. He had kept this gun for years, letting dust settle on it for occasions exactly like this. Even his girlfriend didn’t know about it. 

It sucked that Alma wasn’t here today. He didn’t like being alone, especially not now. He loaded his gun. He quietly slipped through his already open bedroom door, fingers closing around the pistol. 

More sounds came from below. Is it the kitchen?

It sounded like it was. 

His socks made not a sound as he moved down the carpeted stairs, one by one. He raised his arms, pistol held steadily in front of him. He knew what he was doing. He had had practice. If anything came in his or Alma’s way, he would not hesitate to shoot. 

When he reached the last step, his eyes took in his new surroundings. A shattered window, for instance. He groaned. How much did he have to pay for that? 

He knew it was a girl, because the figure in front of him had a yellow hoodie and black jeans with incredibly long and extremely untidy hair that bounced off her back as she opened drawer after drawer. 

“Turn the fuck around!”

She didn’t. Instead, her hand reached towards the knives gathered together and grabbed the handle of the biggest one.

Bang.

He missed his first shot. The girl turned around, her eyes wide — 

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.

Five shots. Three hits. Not bad. It was over in less than five seconds. Her body slid down the floor, blood soaking the front of her hoodie. She had a ski mask on. He smirked. He leisurely walked towards the body and yanked the mask off his intruder’s face. 

It was his girlfriend’s face. 

He dropped his pistol. Clonk. He froze, his eyes wild with unsettled confusion. His hands trembled as he slowly reached for her face, then shook it from side to side. 

“What have I done?”

Before he knew it, his hands were full of kitchen towels. He dropped to his knees. He tried desperately and uselessly to clean up the endless stream of blood pouring onto the previously spotless kitchen floor. 

“I don’t understand.”

He moaned, his face in his hands, body rocking back and forth. For how long he stood there, he wasn’t aware. But less time had passed than he thought did as he heard the distant jingle of keys from the direction of the front door. 

Who else? Hunter picked the pistol back up with his hands now caked with dried blood. He was ready. Soon enough, the door opened. 

“Hunter? Hunter, what the —“

Bang.

Alma grabbed her right arm with a piercing scream. 

Bang.

“You’re not real.” The pistol shook in Hunter’s hands. Tears streamed down his face. His eyes were unfocused, staring at something outside of this world. “You were fucking dead, Alma.”

Bang.

Alma dropped to the ground, lifeless like a stuffed doll. “I killed you. You’re not real. You’re not real.” 

Bang.

“You’re not real.” 

Hunter paused. He pressed the barrel to his head.

Bang.

Silence. 

The Gifted

Photo by Andrey Zvyagintsev on Unsplash

Smack. A frantic warning. A screech. A brief headache. That was all Dinah remembered as she lay on the crosswalk. She was not alone. A shopping bag. Rose petals scattered all over the place, getting trampled by the people surrounding her. She grimaced. That was Aliya’s gift for her birthday, which happened to be today. Just my luck.

She opened her eyes. Dramatic gasps soon followed from the crowd. 

“She should be dead.”

“The tires went over her neck.”

But she was alive. In fact, she felt even better. She blinked once, then again, and stood up, much to everyone’s astonishment, including hers. Not even a limp. Red in the face, Dinah scooped the shopping bag from the ground and fought her way through the crowd. 

A woman grabbed her shoulder, forcing her to turn around. If Dinah could guess, she was around thirty five. Judging by her attire, she was just back from work. She should’ve kept walking. 

“You should go lie back down,” she said. 

“But the driver?” 

The woman averted her gaze. “He’s… hurt. More than he should be, actually. It’s weird. Apparently nasty, too. But are you okay?”

Dinah impatiently nodded. “I’m fine.” 

Ignoring the woman’s attempts to embarrass her further, she walked faster until she reached a corner. Then she dug her phone out, sighing when she realized that it, unlike her, had not been spared from the accident. 

A day later, and it was still broken beyond hope. She felt its absence when she walked down the stairs leading to her biology class. She should have been texting Aliya then, a minute or two before Mr. Hernandez would force her to put it down. 

She was still feeling sorry for the rose petals she left behind when her footsteps slowed down. The sea of students behind didn’t. She missed a step. Before she knew it, her arms were flailing in the air, and she lurched down towards the staircase. Face first. 

One. Dinah heard her own name, repeated twice. Two. Not again. Three. It took her three seconds to tumble down to the third floor. She got up, straightening her shirt, hoping that people would have continued their way forward by now, but of course they had to stand around her. She felt her face heat up. She groaned. She didn’t enjoy attention, not in the slightest. 

“Don’t worry about me,” she insisted, but the worried looks on their faces did not change. “I’m serious. I have to get to class.”

She tried her best to act like nothing happened while she walked towards the classroom with all eyes on her. Just like yesterday, her body felt even better than before. Almost like she had been healed. 

Heal. That was the word she was looking for. There was no other explanation that could be made. She could heal herself. She was invincible. She could jump in front of a hundred cars and still emerge without a scratch. That didn’t cheer her up. But what if she could use it for the greater good? To help someone? 

When she opened the door to the classroom, two seats were missing instead of one. So I’m not the latest, Dinah thought, relieved. 

“Sydney’s not here today,” Mr. Hernandez clarified. “She felt sick and had to go home.” 

Oh. Sydney. No one reacted. She was the kind of girl that would say exactly that and then book a three-day trip to the Bahamas. Alone.

Her new abilities did not stop her from dozing through the entire lecture, and nor did Mr. Hernandez. By the time she woke up, everyone was already leaving the room in a line, towards the auditorium where the speech contest was about to be held. All seniors were required to attend. Why, she thought as she hastily packed her bag and jogged to keep up with the rest of the class.

They were almost the latest to arrive. Dinah knew this because they sat on the third to last row. Next to her was Taylor, who was friendly enough to make way for her as she made an excuse to go to the bathroom. She didn’t actually use it. She just stayed there as long as she thought was socially acceptable and quietly returned to her seat. 

The podium was replaced by three more speakers by then, and this time it was Ivana, the gymnast. She said something about a metaphor and gymnastics and life and everyone laughed. Except for Dinah, who was too busy counting the minutes until the end of Ivana’s speech. 

Dinah had had enough. Her head drooped to the side. Then a single bang. Ivana stopped speaking. Dinah jerked back up. The entire auditorium squeaked as people turned in their seats. A girl in a black jacket and mask had her gun out. Towards Taylor. Taylor.

Taylor obviously knew her, because he wasn’t as surprised as the rest. The crowd erupted, some screaming in terror, some shouting, “Gun!” and others just running out of the auditorium. The shooter wasn’t interested in stopping them. She calmly loaded her gun and pointed it back at Taylor. More panic.

Taylor grabbed Dinah’s right arm, visibly shaking. His eyes locked with the shooter in a silent plea. Dinah did the same, except the shooter wasn’t paying attention to her. She knew what she had to do. She looked around. Half the auditorium was already missing. Others were in the process leaving. Only several people stayed behind, staring at the back of the shooter in terror, frozen in each of their places. 

Dinah yanked her arm out of Taylor’s grip, lunged towards the gun with both her arms extended, and the shooter pulled the trigger: bang, screams, crying. 

Dinah stumbled back in her chair. Her vision went black. She touched her head. There was a distant ringing in her ears. She heard something drop to the floor next to her. The gun.

Then as if by miracle, her eyes snapped back open. Her heart was still beating. Beating fast. Instead of the shooter was a black mask on the ground. Dinah opened her mouth in shock, then in celebration. She did it, we did it, she was about to tell —

Taylor. His body sank lower and lower, blood gurgling out of his neck. It was Taylor all right, but not the Taylor she wanted to see, expected to see, had to see. Dinah’s face turned white. This didn’t make any sense.

Then she thought of the woman, the driver she mentioned that was hurt more than he should’ve been, then Sydney, and she realized that her power was no more than a curse. 

A curse that she herself was forbidden to suffer from. 

More people filled the auditorium, staring at Taylor, then at her, expressions changing from shock to anger. “Look, I can explain this, there’s something that I didn’t —”

But her words were drowned out by a chant that started with two people but was soon joined by others, and Dinah tried to raise her voice, but the people moved in closer. They soon surrounded her, all chanting the same thing, singing:

“Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”

Witchcraft

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Cassandra was more than ten minutes late for her debate club. Not that she really cared. She was sure no one would even notice. She buttoned the last of her shirt and was about to place her hand on the handle of her door when a loud thump interrupted her. She spun around. On her previously spotless bedroom floor lay the almanac that she forgot to put in her bag. She glanced at the open window and back at the book. Just a freak coincidence, she firmly told herself. 

“Are you going anywhere today, Cass?” her dad asked from the kitchen. He was busy rummaging through the kitchen cabinets, opening them one by one. His back wasn’t even turned. 

“Yeah, I’m attending a meeting, nothing too serious, and then I’m meeting a friend.”

“Alisha?” he asked, referring to the girl she brought home often when they were in sixth grade. He did not approve of Alisha’s electric blue hair then, and he probably still did not, because he remembered her and her only. 

She laughed. “Alisha’s not my only friend, Dad.” 

She glanced at her mom’s unfinished work still standing on the kitchen counter. Her creations were often so intricate, so delicate that they took Cassandra’s breath away, and this one was no different. Eleanor King was quite the mechanic. A witch, as she called herself. “I can make anything for you and your dad,” she used to say. That sentence modified itself as she started arguing with her husband on a daily basis. Cassandra thought she even heard screams of pain sometimes coming from her parents’ room. Her dad was too nice to fight back, she guessed. When her mom left three days ago, along with half of the family’s income, it was probably a relief for her dad, but she could have at least left an explanation or a warning so he could have prepared himself. Well, she didn’t. 

She rolled her chair back and forth, barely even listening to the team captain’s lecture. She would’ve watched the ant on the wooden floor carry its single crumb all the way to the other side of the room if her phone hadn’t pulled her back with a ding. It was her dad. He wanted her to get peanut butter. She typed back, Sure. It wasn’t like her plans with Olivia were until thirty minutes later, anyway. So she didn’t mind. She felt like she couldn’t. Besides, this was a good excuse to leave the group. She stood up. 

“Guys, I’m sorry but I think I have to go and run some errands.” 

No one even looked up. Cassandra shrugged and pushed the glass doors open. 

She had never been here in the supermarket before. The place was huge and unusually empty for its size. She walked past at least ten aisles before she found the condiments section, or at least part of it. She decided to start from the left. 

Clonk. A plastic jar fell to the floor out of the corner of her eye. Not believing what just happened, she stood frozen to the ground, staring at the jar before she managed to move again. She slowly walked over and picked the jar up. It was Skippy. Her dad’s favorite brand of peanut butter. 

Her mind was completely blank. She clutched the jar tighter in her hand, then shook her head. She obviously missed someone standing next to her. They probably dropped the jar and didn’t put it back because they didn’t want to deal with it. It was the work of an irresponsible customer, not some Interstellar shit or whatever else came to her mind. If there was something that deserved her attention, it was not that peanut butter. She paid for it and hurriedly left the store before she let anything else happen to her. She walked faster than normal. And then she ran. 

Cassandra arrived at Burger King before five minutes even passed, too early to just sit and wait, especially considering how Olivia had a history of arriving late. She decided to get herself coke to pass time. The employee in red uniform came back in less than a minute to hand her the cup. With her purse, shopping bag and cup in both of her hands, she stared longingly at the straw dispenser to her right. 

“Can I help you with anything?”

“No, I—”

Her words were cut off when a single straw dropped down with a pop. 

“What the fuck?” she said out loud. The employee stared at her. 

“Sorry,” Cassandra muttered, barely grabbing the straw with two fingers. She returned to her seat, her eyes barely focused on the coke or anything else in particular. This was no coincidence. It just wasn’t. Someone was following her. Someone capable of tricking gravity. If a person told her yesterday that this was possible, she would have laughed in their face. But this was real. It was real, and it was happening to her. She frantically looked around her, looking for the safest possible space. The bathroom. Coke forgotten on the table, she headed towards the bathroom, trying her best to act casual, her hands in her pockets. 

When she opened the door and stepped inside, she knew she made a major mistake when a single sheet of tissue fell from its container, accompanied by a disturbing whir. She heard locks clicking. She had locked herself in. 

“Who the hell are you?” 

Silence. 

She turned to the stalls, one closed and the other open. Curiosity won over fear. She approached the left stall and yanked the door open. She screamed, hands over her mouth. Sitting on the toilet, legs apart, covered with streams of blood, eyes wide open, was the victim of a murder, stabbed multiple times in the chest. 

It was her dad. 

“Dad!” she wailed as she held his face in her hands, hoping that it would somehow wake him up, but those eyes did not blink once, and she knew it was too late to save him. 

“Who did this to you?” she whispered, her voice hoarse. 

A sick sense of recognition got hold of her as her suspicions pointed towards the only person that cared enough about her dad to kill him. But her speculations did not last long as a distant banging on the door intensified, and the door finally gave way with a loud creak as one of the local police officers kicked it open. 

“Turn around! Put your hands above your head! Now!” 

She obeyed, taking her hands off the lifeless body as tears streamed down her face, putting her hands above her head. 

“I had nothing to do with this!” she screamed, but the police officer ignored her as he practically dragged her out of the bathroom. Her kicking stopped, her mouth hanging open in shock when she saw her mom sitting on the nearest table, all alone. 

Eleanor smiled.